Does it never end?

Thursday, August 24th, 2006 · 13 Comments »

So, I’ve been sick. (Yes, it’s me, Violet. I’ve wrested control of my body from The Virus, which has retreated to my lymph nodes where it is lurking quietly.) I got online again today for the first time in awhile, and lo and behold if Forbes (the Home Page for Rich White Assholes) hasn’t launched a shitstorm by publishing an article entitled, quaintly, “Don’t Marry Career Women.” The gist of the piece is that women with their own incomes are no good at fulfilling those essential wifely functions of valet, maid, cook, nurse, and personal sex servant to their owners husbands (the same author also has a piece up doing a cost benefit analysis on wives versus prostitutes). Forbes’ advice is that the savvy man should avoid those uppity career gals and get himself somebody who has no recourse but to barter her body and labor in exchange for a roof over her head. The unspoken message to any little ladies who might pick up a copy of the magazine after the menfolk have finished reading it is that if they want to catch a man, they’d better be as dumb, pliant, and dependent as possible.

Now, here’s the fucking thing, if you’ll pardon my language: I was reading this exact same crap while I was sick — except it was in a book called Inside the Victorian Home.

In 1844 Ann Richelieu Lamb summarized the purpose of marriage: “Man…seeks to find in his wife, a sort of upper servant, or female valet, who is to wait upon him, attend to his wants, instinctively anticipate his wishes, and study his comfort, and who is to live for the sole purpose of seeing him well-fed, well-lodged, and well-pleased!”

Countless books and articles reinforced the notion that this was what women were for, and that the great danger of education for women was that it would render them fundamentally unfit for life — or rather, for wifehood, which was woman’s destiny. Charlotte Yonge’s novel The Daisy Chain hammered the point home with the tale of an intelligent, bookish girl who devotes herself to her studies, neglecting the all-important housework that is her proper focus as a female. Her concerned family nips this in the bud. Afraid that she will become “odd, eccentric and blue,” they command her to give up Latin and Greek. Her own brother tells her, “I assure you, Ethel, it is really time for you to stop, or you would get into a regular learned lady, and be good for nothing.” Ethel sees the light, gives up her aspirations, and devotes herself to sewing.

In the same era, William Rathbone Greg railed against women who earned their own living, arguing that this was contrary to woman’s proper function of “completing, sweetening, and embellishing the existence of others…” Servants were exempt from his criticism, because “they fulfill both essentials of a woman’s being; they are supported by, and they minister to, men.”

Apparently the Forbes article was originally illustrated with an image of an unkempt house, showing what happens when wives get all uppity: they sleep with other men, they refuse to do the housework, and the goddamn potato chip crumbs just pile up. The Forbes people have removed the illustration, but this color plate from Inside the Victorian Home does just as well:

The painting is from the triptych Past and Present (1858) by Augustus Egg, depicting the downward trajectory of the adulterous woman. See what a mess the house is? Food on the floor, kids playing with cards, probably potato chip crumbs somewhere.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. I tell you, folks, this kind of shit just makes me want to go right back to bed.

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13 Responses to “Does it never end?”

  1. rootlesscosmo says:

    The last two quatrains of a Tennyson poem:

    For him she plays, to him she sings
    Of early faith and plighted vows;
    She knows but matters of the house,
    And he, he knows a thousand things.

    Her faith is fixt and cannot move,
    She darkly feels him great and wise,
    She dwells on him with faithful eyes,
    ‘I cannot understand: I love.’

    The last line is best delivered in a childish singsong, decorated with a lisp: “I cannot underthtand,” etc.

    What worked last time–insofar as it worked at all–was to put these pigs in fear, if not for their skins, then at least for their peace and quiet. Time to start scaring them again.

  2. Violet says:

    Tennyson was a twit. What rubbish he churned out.

  3. rootlesscosmo says:

    Among the Max Beerbohm drawings included in “The Stuffed Owl: an Anthology of Bad Verse” is one of Tennyson “reading In Memoriam to his Sovereign.” Google Image search doesn’t turn it up, but it’s worth looking for, and the book itself is a gem.

  4. foilwoman says:

    The Forbes yanked article just is the man telling what he already knows: if he hooks up with a woman with the power to leave him, she probably will, once she has a vowel and a clue. Because he can’t consider altering his behavior even though it results in him being dateless and despised. Oh, yes, and I am a career woman who finally got around to divorcing my husband who was spending all the money I earned. Yup. Gosh, if he’s just married a poor woman without good earning power he would just have been poor all along. Quel dommage.

  5. silverside says:

    Of course, the guy who marries the woman without a job who produces three kids in four years will also be the first to whine about how she’s a fat, lazy ball-and-chain. Won’t take long before that new, lean blonde gal in marketing is looking pretty good, so he dumps wife #1 for the new trophy wife. Of course, wife #1, having no money for a decent attorney, will be lucky to get out with even her kids.


  6. hedonistic says:

    Rocking post, Violet; I’m linking to it chez moi!

  7. toastedsuzy says:

    Warning: WOMEN, DON’T MARRY MEN!

  8. » Coke vs. Pepsi — or how to find a good wife (preferably one who doesn’t have a job). says:

    [...] Does it Never End?,  Don’t Marry Career Men, for a broad wrap up Don’t Marry Career Men on Blogher. [...]

  9. appletree » Blog Archive » America Regresses to its Racist, Sexist Past says:

    [...] Via Reclusive Leftist, I found an item in Forbes that warns men not to marry women who work outside the home: The gist of the piece is that women with their own incomes are no good at fulfilling those essential wifely functions of valet, maid, cook, nurse, and personal sex servant to their owners husbands (the same author also has a piece up doing a cost benefit analysis on wives versus prostitutes). [...]

  10. Chris says:

    apropos of nothing other than sucking up by being obsequeiously helpful, here is Taibbi’s review of Friedman’s Head Is Flat.

  11. Chris says:

    Also by providing a gratuitous misspledding of “obsequiously” for Violet’s delectation and outrage. That is all.

  12. Violet says:

    Also by posting it in the wrong thread. But that’s okay. Thank you!

  13. Chris says:

    I live to serve.